To Eli On His Fourth Birthday

This year, for your birthday, we got smart: we outsourced your party to JumpZone! JumpZone! is a magical warehouse filled will bunches of inflatable two-story slides and bouncy obstacle courses. It’s so much fun, I’d like to have my birthday party, but it’s only for kids. You and thirteen of your friends ran around like crazed yappy poodles, and when it came time for cake and pizza you were all tired out, and best of all, we didn’t have to clean up afterwards. If we’d had fourteen four-year-olds in our house, there’d have been nothing left but a hole in the ground and maybe a single toilet. We’d stand outside the wreckage looking dazed, telling TV reporters that it “sounded like a freight train.”

The parties take place upstairs in the warehouse, so before the feeding frenzy begins, all kids have to gather at the bottom of the stairs and dunk their hands in sanitizer. It turns out that herding a large group of four-year-olds is like directing Anonymous, only with fewer rickrolls, so there was a lot of milling about. And in the confusion, you and Mackenzie the red-haired girl snuck a kiss.

Then Mackenzie turned around and kissed another boy on her other side. Welcome to dating!

This last year, your talking has turned into full-blown storytelling. It’s all stream-of-consciousness stuff that pours out of you, incorporating whatever you happen to see. It’s like having the writer’s room for Lost on speakerphone. “This is nail, he walks around when he’s wound up and sometimes he jumps. When he dies he gets tired and then he’s sad. One day he was moving on the carpet, and then he had to avoid Liza by going over her and to the wall. When he sees the pictures on the wall, he bounces off of them and flies through the galaxy looking for Power Stars.”

As you might have guessed by the Power Stars bit in that story, you’re also obsessed about videogames. It all started innocently enough, with you playing Tasty Planet. From there we moved to Katamari Damacy (both of them) and Lego Star Wars. Now all of your stories involve Mario, Darth Vader, General Grievous, and a big ball of stuff.

You’ve begun playing by yourself some, and though it’s never for more than ten to fifteen minutes at a time, it’s a nice break for your harried parents. We get to tend to Liza or do chores around the house. Sometimes we sit and stare, doing nothing, just for the novelty.

I know, I know, in a few years you won’t want to play with me at all, and I should savor the moments while I can. Parenting is lumpy like crunchy peanut butter. What would be wonderful spread out over fifteen or twenty years is instead compressed into a few months or years. If we seem cross with you, please be kind. We’ll go eat some chocolate and get some sleep and be better tomorrow.

You’ve become obsessed with building things. Legos are old hat by now — you’re on to the hardcore stuff, mainlining Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. I say “you”, but what I really mean is “us”, or more accurately “me”. You’ll put something together, like a banger (a single Tinkertoy hub and a long stick that’s useful for banging into things), and then demand that I build a sixty-piece robot that you saw in the teeny instruction booklet, the booklet that takes the words “instruction” and stretches it to cover a single blurry picture with no annotation.

The biggest change in our lives has been Liza’s arrival. You’ve adapted to her marvelously. At first she was a lump of baby and you didn’t care, but now you’re alternatively thrilled with her laughing delightedly at you and annoyed with her chewing your toys. Being a big brother is a tough gig, and she’ll get on your nerves a lot. Try to bear with her. She thinks you’re the coolest thing since mashed sweet potatoes.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed is watching you develop your thinking skills. You do your OCD parents proud when you announce, “I have a plan.” You don’t actually make plans, though, until forced to by us wanting you to do something different. We’ll ask you to clean your room, and you’ll say, “I have a plan. You, dad, and I will play marble tower after dinner while mom takes care of Liza and then we will have bath and after that I’ll clean my room.” It’s one of your set of bargaining and manipulation tools. Another one is, “I was just…”

ME: Ew! Did you just put that stick in your mouth?
YOU: I was just…running it over my lips.

Add to it “maybe we can…”, which you say when you want to give an alternative to going to bed or taking your medicine.

We also made the mistake of joking about you having an Emergency Show one day when you’d watched your full allotment of TV but Liza was sick and needed attention. “Okay,” we told you, “you can have an Emergency Show.” Since then you’ve asked for Emergency Computer Time, Emergency Wii, and Emergency Treat.

You’ve started pegging some of your plans to nebulous future dates that hopefully won’t come. Up to two days before your birthday you were announcing, “When I am four, then I will give up my pacifier.” The day you turned four, you explained, “When I am older, like five or six, then I will give up my pacifier.”

I was most proud of your planning the day you got lost in Babies “R” Us. Mom and I miscommunicated, and you ended up wandering away. Distraught, you went to the front of the store. When an employee asked you what was wrong, you told her, “My name is Eli and my mom is Misty. Can you find her for me?” That’s especially impressive because we had never told you what to do if you got lost. We’re the parenting equivalent of people who can’t remember to water their plants.

I haven’t been as patient with you as I should be. The stress of dealing with two kids has made me snappish and tired. Who knew that two kids are four times the work! Parenting is full of things that seem so important when you’re in the midst of them, but in retrospect were no big deal. It’s as if I keep climbing Mount Everest, only to look back when I’m at the top and discover that I’ve really been trudging across Oklahoma.

When I come home from work, you open the door and run to me, giggling. You talk to me non-stop from then until bedtime. Some days I’m so exhausted that I wish you’d go away and give me some peace.

Do me a favor: never make that wish come true.

Dad and Eli at the beach